California's $3.6 billion highway plan could include EV fees

Gov. Brown's Proposal May Tie Gas Tax To Consumer Price Index

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is proposing to spend $3.6 billion a year for repairs to California's crumbling transportation infrastructure, with some of the money to come from a $65 annual fee on vehicle registrations and increases in diesel and gas taxes tied to inflation. The administration confirmed Thursday that it was circulating the plan to legislative leaders and transportation interest groups, which had called for spending $6 billion a year.

The proposal says the $65 annual charge would generate $2 billion a year, while $500 million would come from fees charged to polluters and $100 million from so-called "efficiencies" at Caltrans, which the independent state legislative analyst has said is overstaffed.

Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy said in an email that the proposal was offered after numerous meetings with Democrats and Republicans.

"It includes sensible reforms and sufficient revenue to improve our roads, bridges, public transit and trade corridors – all vital to boosting quality-of-life and economic competitiveness," Lacey said.

The Democratic governor called a special session on transportation funding in June but until Thursday there was little indication of a concrete proposal backed by the administration for how to pay for an estimated $59 billion backlog in repairs.

Brown's plan includes concessions sought by Republicans such as requiring regular updates on progress toward highway improvements, streamlined environmental reviews for infrastructure repairs and extending public-private partnerships for construction. Still, he did not appear to yet have support needed from a two-thirds majority in each house of the state Legislature.

Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, said in a statement that she is happy the proposal embraces strategies for quickly building better roads.

"Unfortunately, the administration's ideas call for more than doubling the vehicle registration fees and raising the price of fuel on all Californians – we disagree and think Californians have paid enough," she said.

Lawmakers in both parties believe the state's transportation tax structure is out of date. They also agree the state can't keep relying on a gas tax that hasn't been increased in 20 years and lets thousands of electric car drivers off the hook for maintaining the roads they drive on.

The current gas tax rises and falls each year based on state projections. Brown's proposal would set it at a fixed rate based on a 5-year average then add index increases to the consumer price index. It also calls for an 11-cent-per-gallon increase on diesel fuel.

Transportation, business and transit advocacy groups responded enthusiastically to the proposal, urging lawmakers to reach a compromise before the Legislature is set to leave Sacramento on September 11. Matt Cate, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, called it "a balanced approach" that incorporates ideas from many groups.

"It is a solid framework that should serve as the basis of a negotiated compromise," he said in a statement.

Some fellow Democrats remained skeptical. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who introduced his own transportation funding package earlier this year, called Brown's plan a discussion being floated, rather than a proposal, and said it is being reviewed "to determine its fiscal competence."

"It would create additional revenue but not enough," he said.

Brown's outline also includes:
  • $1.6 billion annually for state highway improvements;
  • $1.15 billion annually for local streets and roads, including $100 million for environmentally friendly improvements such as bike lanes and sidewalks; and
  • $400 million a year in grants to local governments for transit.
The AP contributed to this report.

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